Face off: Film production today is more organised thanks to MNC studios, says Ajit Andhare

Written by Anushree Bhattacharyya | New Delhi | Updated: Jun 24 2014, 04:58am hrs
The Indian film industry is estimated to be around $2 billion in size. While it is the largest market in terms of the number of films produced a year, in terms of value, it is still a small industry because average ticket per user is less than a dollar. The scenario is a tad better in case of multiplexes where the average ticket per user is $5-6. Multinational studios seem to have found the perfect remedy to their problem in small-budget, content lead movies, where one is not dependent on the star power of a popular actors to draw in audiences. These studios prefer to release 10-12 small-budget movies in several languages. In a conversation with FE BrandWagons Anushree Bhattacharyya, Ajit Andhare, chief operating officer (COO), Viacom18 Motion Pictures, speaks about the transition the film business has undergone in the past five years and the important role these new breed of films play in the business of films. Edited excerpts:

How has the film business evolved in India after the arrival of professional studios

Five years back, professional studios began to enter the business in India and today almost all the major multinationals (MNC) are present in the country. At the same time, homegrown Indian studios such as Yash Raj, Balaji and Dharma Production have also expanded their business. One of the biggest changes ushered in by MNCs is that film-making has become much more organised. Also, there is better control in terms of cost. Second, marketing and distribution has become very important. The reliance on star power to market the film has come down. Rather, a studio markets the film in a far more sophisticated way. And the third change is the kind of films that are being made. Different types of storytelling and genres are being experimented with which has led to the creation of a new breed of films in Bollywood. The theatrical revenue of this new breed of movies is close to R1000 crore, which makes it an important part of the industry today.

Observers say the role of multinational studios is restricted to being a trade company unlike homegrown studios which are involved in a film from scratch

Multinational studios in India played the role of a trade company four to five years back when they entered the business of film making. We have clearly moved away from those days of studious being deal markers to now being content makers. So in all our films, even if it is a co-production, we are very intimately involved at every step. For example, last year for Chashme Baddoor which was completely made by us, we hired David Dhawan as the director. And the reason why we co-produce a film is because we are looking at a larger play in the business.

Viacom18 released a slew of small budget films last year and they did well on the box office unlike some films with big stars in them. Does that signal a change in your strategy

We released around 15 films last year. Most of them were small budget films and they did well. For instance, Queen which was a big success crossed R60 crore at the domestic box office. Bhaag Milkha Bhaag was again a huge success and raked in R200 crore worldwide. Madras Caf too raked in R50 crore in India despite not being released in many territories. Then Chashme Baddoor made R 50 crore at domestic box office. So we have had a number of films last year delivering box office hits, despite the fact that these films were not dependent on star power. This proves that our strategy to focus on content-led films is working in our favour. We have had a significantly higher success ratio compared to the industry in the recent past. Some of the movies which did not do well last year were Boss which featured Akshay Kumar and One by Two which we co-produced with Abhay Deol.

Films production is increasingly becoming dependent on satellite rights secured from the broadcast industry. Is that a good development

Satellite rights contribute to 35-40% of the overall revenue, while the balance 60-65% of revenue still comes from theatres. So it is a myth that satellite rights have taken over the revenue coming from other sources. Yes, satellite prices have gone up but so has the cost of making films. Theatres still play an important role, and if a film fails, then its producers are under huge stress. But yes, a few significant value deals have been signed in the recent past for some of the A-list movies because broadcasters are keen to have these movies on their respective channels. Incidentally, broadcasters pay a high price for only A-list movies.

How do you distribute your movies Is there any particular strategy you follow

Our entire database and experience come in handy when it comes to distribution. The database helps in planning the distribution of our movies, as it tells about the kind of audiences who have watched our films in the last five years across the country as well as in global markets. Also, it provides us with details on how each film had fared on each theatre screen and this helps in deciding an optimum release plan. It is easier to plan the release of a big film because one simply has to occupy every screen in every theatre. But in case of movies such as Madras Caf or Queen, one needs to optimise the plan and occupy only those screens where return-on-investment is guaranteed. For example, in case of Son of Sardar, we took more than 2000 screens across the country, while for Queen we initially took 1000 screens and then gradually started occupying more screens as the film started to perform well thanks to word of mouth.

How do you plan to consolidate your presence in the overseas markets

The overseas markets are very traditional. For example, audiences in markets such as the US or the Middle East behave like audiences in Punjab, UP and central India, as they like to watch very traditional films. So in markets such as the US, Middle East, Australia, Singapore, New Zealand and Fiji, mainly big Bollywood movies featuring actors such as Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan or Salman Khan tend to do well. As of now, hardly 10% of our revenue comes from these markets. We believe that the key thing is to look beyond these markets and make different products which are not necessarily for the diaspora. The idea is to make films with universal stories such as Life of Pi, which will allow us to address a larger market.

Spends on film promotions are increasingly becoming bigger. To what extend does aggressive marketing help in grabbing eyeballs

Actually studios spend 30-35% of each films expected revenue on marketing and advertising. Today it plays a decisive role in making or breaking a movie. If a studio is making content led movies, then it has to generate demand for the film and marketing is an important tool to achieve that. We have had our share of marketing success. For example, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag collected R9 crore as theatrical revenue on the opening day due to the way it was marketed. The missing husband campaign launched to promote Kahaani also helped in generating lot of curiosity. Even, the gamcha campaign launched to create buzz about Gangs of Wasseypur was such a hit that the team sported the gamcha even at the Cannes Film Festival.